Online workshop: Getting started as an online tutor

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15th Aug 2000
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This is the transcript of the TrainingZONE online workshop held on 15 August 2000. The topic for the session was 'Getting Started as an Online Tutor'. Workshops take place at least once a week and are free to participants. A complete schedule or workshops is available online.

This workshop is one of a series aimed at supporting the growth and development of online trainers. Other initiatives you may want to check out include:

Tim Pickles: Sorry to be late everyone. Lesson One: check your online learning technology is working effectively 30 minutes before you need to actually use it with others! Apologies.

Clare Walker: Ooops, I'm not used to this chatting process. That was meant to read "does anyone have any advice in the on-line field?

Laura Lindell: Welcome Tim

Tim Pickles: I'd like to try and facilitate with some kind of structure to today's workshop and thought we might look first at different Tools for online tutoring - what people use and how familiar they are with each.

Alison Waugh: I have been using active listening, and a kind of longdistance dialogue, complete with protocols. I find the structure very important. It needs to be agreed beforehand and moderated as you go along.

Tim Pickles: I see three main tools in use: (1) Content pages - which people read, work through, respond to, etc. (2) Group learning tools - like this kind of Chat window - and which could also have video feed and (3) asynchronous discussion through posting messages to a common discussion forum/board. Would people like to react with their experience of any/all of these?

Alison Waugh: Tim - are you talking about group tutoring, or one-on one, or both?

Matthew Haggis: Just as Alison's comment went up, I was wondering if you meant software tools or technique tools. Both are interesting.

Tim Pickles: I'd like to cover both group and individual online tutoring if we can - and perhaps tease out any differences.

Matthew Haggis: I'm here to find out, by the way - I don't do any online tutoring at the moment.

Tim Pickles: and if we can focus on the tutoring technique skills as they relate to the different software choices you have [Newcomers - follow the link below to see the earlier transcript].

Laura Lindell: Any of the tutoring or coaching skills can be successfully adpated to written form. what I lack, as you can see, is the technical know how.

Matthew Haggis: Laura, how do you know they can be successfully adapted?

Tim Pickles: I think "adaptation" is the right word, but remember that the environment for the person being tutored is quite different. They're not gettng the same feedback as they would face to face - you need to be far more deliberately active in maintaining contact and support.

Alison Waugh: My experience (limited to one client over four months) is that a mixture of email and the occasional phonecall worked very well. Listening in print is an interesting skill. Working with a client with creativity - something that is more usually seen as an immediate thing - over time forces one to be very clear about first principles. when all is said and sdone, it comes back to one's own confidence and the mthod is secondary.

Philippa Bogle: Having just joined the room, can anyone tell me what the pitfalls are for on-line learning?

Matthew Haggis: Alison, have you got better at 'listening in print', and if so, how?

Alison Waugh: Tim, I agree wholeheartedly about the maintanence needed. agreeing a structure - reply within so many days, undertake to do background reading etc - is essential.

Russell Holt: Alison, how has the online experience with this client differed from your offline experience on tutoring?

Tim Pickles: The downside of relying on email and postings to discussion forums is the time delay - it can feel like playing a game of chess with someone through the post - it takes for ever to get simple answers. This is where technology like phone support or chat conferences (like this one) really come in.

Alison Waugh: matthew - yes. the nuances that people write - even down to their spelling mistakes - reflects when they are confident, passionate, lost, etc. It just needs a different - or more focused - kind of reading.

Rob Alford: Is there supposed to be a lecture type of event happening here today???

Philippa Bogle: Rob - don't know - I think it's a discussion really.

Laura Lindell: I have been supporting a number of people using email and have found that the language of change is just as effective on-line. If the client is familiar and comfortable with the technology the rest is down to the linguistic skills of the tutor.

Tim Pickles: Rob - is more of a facilitated discussion around questions and issues, with me trying to maintain a kind of structure -which also demonstrates the pros and cons of this type of online tutoring technology.

Matthew Haggis: Tim, how easy is it to set up private chat conferences for specific clients?

Alison Waugh: russell - the main way the experience has differed is in not being able to use visual means of communicating. I am an inveterate doodler, and mindmapper, and find that this works very well in face-to-face tutoring. I haven't yet tried out a mind-map or drawing software with clients - my own limitations.

Laura Lindell: thanks Matthew - that's my key question.

Matthew Haggis: Alison, it should be too difficult to email doodles etc to the client, I suspect the trick will be to get your fingers away from pencil and paper and onto somehting computerish!

Tim Pickles: To set up your own chat conferences you either need to have the technology installed on your own server, or 'hire' a room like this one - which we are currently doing for several trainers.

Laura Lindell: What technology?

Lucy Madahar: Tim, there is always plenty of talk of supporting the learner, but how and what can I do to ensure that the tutors I use for online learning feel trained enough to use such a system and feel supported?

Matthew Haggis: OK, nitty gritties - how much to hire?

Alison Waugh: the whole area of online tutoring is interesting from the point of view of different learning styles and intelligences. we need to develop ways of electronically bringing these personal skills into play.

Tim Pickles: Laura - technology like this is software manufactured by various companies - this system is called Volano and is used by many organisations, but there are others - you buy a licence to run it on your servers if you maintain your own website.

Laura Lindell: I have a client that I have been working with that wants this kind of follow up support for their managers. How do I go about setting it up?

Alison Waugh: Lucy - perhaps you can run events like this for your tutors, and help them through learning by doing in the safe environment of your chat room.

Matthew Haggis: Laura - and do you have the tutors, once you've set it up?

Tim Pickles: Lucy - online tutors do need support and probably a certain level of training. At present, we've only found 2/3 training providers offering short courses in online tutoring skills and we're looking to make them available shortly via Trainingzone.

Alison Waugh: Tim - if you are looking for more tutors, can we talk about it?

jim: I'm interested in converting a successful live, soft-skill training programme to on-line. Any do's and dont's?

Matthew Haggis: What sort of support for the tutors is it you are both thinking about?

Tim Pickles: In response to several questions, anyone can book this room (subject to it being free). At present it's a free service - but eventually we may need to introduce a nominal charge per hour.

Alison Waugh: Hey, I'm really enjoying keeping all these plates spinning!

Laura Lindell: Yes, Matthew I have the tutors but am looking into the technology.

Russell Holt: Has anyone used any Centra products for creating a virtual classroom & bringing various elements of support together (inc. chat)?

Matthew Haggis: Is anyone else writing notes on paper beside their screens? What a mess my page is already!

Alison Waugh: russell - I have a colleague who has been using Centra successfully - do you want an introduction?

Alison Waugh: matthew - thats a point - can we print off this discussion afterwards?

Russell Holt: No, thanks I've seen it already . It's very good. Others should take a look.

Matthew Haggis: So any views on Volano vs. Centra? (or am I getting confused?)

Tim Pickles: Three hints for using THIS technology. (1) Single click on a person's name and their email address appears below. (2) Double click on a person's name and you get a new window where you can have a private chat with them - try it with me if you want to see how it works (3) Publish the full transcript afterwards - we do on the Workshop page.

Russell Holt: Centra has chat but also can let the tutor run demos on powerpoint, share a 'whiteboard' , have voice chat, it's a biggr proposition. Chat is good starting point for a synchronous tool.

Tim Pickles: So, more points/questions on using this kind of Chat technology to support learning?

Tim Pickles: Russell, can you put up a URL for Centra so people can see it?

Alison Waugh: is there an optimum number of people?

Matthew Haggis: Would the Whiteboard bit help with Alison's need for online doodling?

Russell Holt: www.centra.com although they work with a lot of other players such as elearnity.com, saba.com & wbtsystems.com.

Tim Pickles: Alison, chat workshops like this can handle any number of people, but the more there are, the more confusing the threads!

Tim Pickles: Four strangers is often too small, but four people who know each other (e.g. a team) can work. For strangers, 8 to 15 can work well.

Alison Waugh: And the nmore possibility, I suppose for serendipity.

jim: This is really unstructured. Could it really be used as a forum for learning!!

Matthew Haggis: Ooo - that shut everyone up!

Alison Waugh: jim, if the structure is agreed beforehand, and the protocols are clear, then yes. this is a bazaar more than anyhting else.

Russell Holt: It can be. The rules are agreed at the outset and everyone sticks to them.

Matthew Haggis: So, Tim, what are the rules?

jim: Matthew, good question!

Matthew Haggis: (Personally I was enjoying the free-for-all!)

Alison Waugh: Matthew, I would say the rules are the same as in dialogue and any other respectful conversation; but have to be mutually agreed.

Tim Pickles: One of the difficulties with this form occurs when people arrive at different times e.g. people who have arrived since 13:05 missed my posting about the structure of the workshop !! So one tip is to publish the 'groundrules' in advance - as you might do in a classroom environment.

Matthew Haggis: Yes, I thought of Dialogue within a few minutes of us starting.

Laura Lindell: Tim might be busy responding to those of us that tested his private chat line.

Alison Waugh: Anyone got an electronic talking stick, or want to work with me to invent one?

Laura Lindell: A what, Alison?

Matthew Haggis: Now, that's got the imagination going, Alison!

Matthew Haggis: I can see how we might pass on a talking stick, but not how to let people know when we want it.

Alison Waugh: a talking stick is a way of mediating a large number of people, usually in a circle - native american priactice. I use it a lot and people respond very well, even - or especially - the more conservative ones.

Tim Pickles: Other protocols / groundrules useful to online tutors: (1) prompt start, (2) allow the facilitator to establish an agenda and then steer it, (3) take time before posting to see how the dialogue is developing, (4) usual rules about respect for others, (5 ....other suggestions?

Alison Waugh: You can even get people to make their own.

jim: Why? Why do this, when you could have a telephone conference or God forbid, get everyone in one room?

Russell Holt: Ahh, with Centra you can put your hand up but cant talk until invited to do so. Like school used to be.

Matthew Haggis: As the tutor/facilitator, turn up on time in order to do (2)! Mega :-), by the way Tim!

Matthew Haggis: So does Centra have a talking stick built in, Alison, or is there more to it?

Tim Pickles: Any other 'rule' suggestions that people have come across?

Alison Waugh: jim - I find this allows for more reflection.

Laura Lindell: So is Centra a purchaseable package that one can adapt ?

Matthew Haggis: Jim, from my experience of telephone conferences, I prefer this. Presumably the idea is you use this when and in situations when you can't get everyone together.

Alison Waugh: Matthew, I don't know about Centra in enough detail. the talking stick is also needed for video conferencing.

Tim Pickles: Tutors should also think about how you combine different online tools - in the same way that you combine techniques in classroom delivery. e.g. Chat like this works best when you've pre-published content, resources, activities, video for participants to study first e.g. on a website with your content. How many people have learning content up on a site for participants to access, download, etc and study in their own time?

Lucy Madahar: Participating as a trainee in the past I've found that these type of chat shops are useful for sharing experiences and as a simple question and answer session.

Matthew Haggis: Do I put my hand up if I want to leave the room, or do I just go quiet for a while? See you again soon.

Tim Pickles: Thanks matthew!

Alison Waugh: not yet; mea culpa, but working on it.

jim: Thanks Tim, bye.

Alison Waugh: I'm leaving the chat now. many thanks for things to think about, and hope to see/chat soon.

Laura Lindell: I'm developing a programme designed to be supported on-line over a specifc number of weeks. But to support individual participants I only know how to use email or an old programme I had called ICQ.

Russell Holt: When providing e-mail or other asynchonous support, what 'service level agreement' do you have in terms of getting back to a learner, both time & depth of response. Or what do you feel is reasonable?

Tim Pickles: A look round any of the online learning companies today quickly reveals some of the problems in making your online content attractive - you need to focus on doing the simple things well - e.g. making material available for download rather than complex view-on-screen content.

Alison Waugh: Russell - saw your note before I left. I'm happy to send you a copy of my generic agreement if it would be helpful.

Russell Holt: I have some ideas / Qs that I'll mail you. I've got your address.

Tim Pickles: Folks, it seems to be drying up!! We normally run these sessions for 45 minutes - so any last questions or points to get in?

Laura Lindell: No, jsut to say thanks.

Tim Pickles: OK, we may follow up to interested participants with a quick email on some of the points raised. Meanwhile, we'll publish this transcript to the Workshop page this afternoon.

Tim Pickles: Thanks to everyone for their contributions to a pretty lively (and sometime sceptical) debate !!

Rob Hudson: Having listened to the discussion it appears that we should be using a mix of tools and keep things as simple as possible until improved technology comes along.

Matthew Haggis: Just back - thanks Tim and all the others. Short and sweet, just how I like it. Can we do it again before November?

Tim Pickles: [Jack - we've just reached the end, sorry]

Tim Pickles: Pretty much agree with that comment Rob.

Jack Broadley: Oh well, good to get in.

Tim Pickles: Ok, to leave the chat, just close the window or go to another page.

Russell Holt: Yes, people can tend to overlook synchronous one to one, audio chat support - the phone.

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